[B-Greek] Aorist as Verbal Aspect

Mitch Larramore mitchlarramore at yahoo.com
Tue May 13 12:19:19 EDT 2008

Dr. Penner:

This has helped me understand my previous question
more clearly. See my new questions below:

--- Ken Penner <ken.penner at acadiau.ca> wrote:

> Hi Mitch,
> I'm not sure I speak for Campbell, Porter or McKay
> in the following.
> When we say aspect is "subjective" we mean there is
> nothing about an event itself that demands that a
> certain aspect be used.
> To use the classic English example (Comrie, Aspect,
> 4), "John read that book yesterday; while he was
> reading it, the postman came." The same act of
> reading can be expressed using the perfective
> ("read") and imperfective ("was reading").
> By way of contrast, I cannot change tenses as
> easily. 

ML: Here is where I find it hard to follow
McKay/Porter. For them, there is no temporal element
to the "tenses." All a verb has is Aspect.

I can't choose to say "John is reading that
> book" if the reading has already taken place. This
> is because tense depends on the time the statement
> is made. Aspect depends not on this fixed, objective
> "Speech time" but on a moveable "Reference time."

ML: But, if I want to portray this event with minus
remoteness and in progress, I must use the Present
Tense form. "John is reading..." regardless of WHEN it
occurs. This is what I understand Aspect-only people
to be saying. But, for some reason, Greek writers
don't tend to portray events this way; they tend to
follow this "non existent" temporal concept. 

> That "Reference time" can be chosen by the speaker;
> in this sense it is subjective. In "John read that
> book yesterday", the Reference time is "yesterday";
> in "while he was reading it, the postman came", the
> Reference time for "was reading" is time of the
> postman's arrival. 
> Perfective is used in the first clause because the
> reference time (yesterday) is external to the event
> (reading the book). Imperfective is used in the
> second clause because the reference time (the
> postman's arrival) is internal to the same event
> (reading the book).

ML: Okay. So, if I want to portray the Imperfective in
the first clause (rather than the Perfective, since
Aspect is subjective), and I want to portray the event
with less remoteness than the Imperfect Tense allows,
I will use the Present Tense (since, with McKay and
Porter, it ONLY portrays Aspect), I have:

"John IS reading that book yesterday..."

> Now to your question: why is the Aorist not used for
> present situations? Why is a current event rarely
> portrayed from an external viewpoint?
> Let's try to imagine such a case: the time of the
> event and the speech coincide, but the reference
> point is external to the time of the event. In
> English, "By the time you read this, I will have
> written this message." That has a reference point
> (your reading) outside the event (my writing), and
> the speech at the same time as the event.

ML: If I want to portray this same event, can I change
Aspects to:

Yesterday, you are reading this, I am writing this

Yesterday, you are reading this (I want to draw my
audience into this event, so I am using the Present
Tense Aspect of minus remoteness), I am writing this
message (I want to portray my writing as in progress,
and again I don't want to portray my writing in a
remote way).

The only thing that seems to prevent me from writing
this way is to contend that Aspect is not subjective.
But to do this, seems to necessitate the Greek Verb
denoting "temporalness." And I think my questions boil
down to why don't we see all kinds of "non-sense"
readings like these. Why does the Greek writer seem to
prefer to write in such a way as to "assume" past,
present, and future tenses with a system (according to
McKay) that does not encode time? I guess the only
option would be to argue that Aspect has some limits
based on time, but that brings us right back to the
Greek Verb encoding some temporalness. 

Mitch Larramore
Sugar Land, Texas


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